Some updated thoughts on volume, how best to train for stability, and board trends in the industry.
There is a definite relationship between surfing performance and lower v/w ratios. If you look at any of the top pros they are riding negative ratios, less float than weight. The majority of good surfers are riding at or below a 1.3 ratio. So a 150lbs surfer would at or under 88L or 180lbs – 107L.
I hold firm to the belief that if your goal is to be able to surf at a high level on a SUP you should have a target of getting into the 1.3 or lower range. My experience in coaching the last few years has changed my mind on the correct path to get there for a majority of paddle surfers. (paddle surfers without an extensive surfing background)
To explain, I need to take a step back. I came into paddle surfing with a long history of surfing shortboards. So when I decided to start paddle surfing I wasn’t concerned with wave knowledge, catching waves, or the surfing component. In evaluating the best paddle surfers it was obvious that small boards were a must, and that small was largely a reflection of volume. The surfing would take care of itself once I could stand on a board I could surf. This resonates with anyone coming into standup from the surf world.
It wasn’t until I started to understand how the learning process works with my study of learning and coaching that I discovered the error in pushing volume and learning to surf at the same time. The mind can only process a few new skills at once, and when you push your limits in one area, other skills that have yet to be internalized revert to old habits/patterns.
I’ll give you an example – Someone pushing their volume limits riding a 100L board, who is comfortable in waist high surf, will probably be ok (stable) surfing the 100L board in waist high surf, but when you increase the stress of the situation by introducing larger waves, that the surfer isn’t comfortable surfing, focus will shift to the waves and positioning, and balance will become an issue.
I call that increase in stress is called a flow multiplier, and while flow multipliers are great fun once you’ve hit a certain level, they aren’t great at the beginning of the learning process, in fact they retard it.
What I’ve done with my private clients this year is to separate training for volume/stability and surfing skills. I recommend having at least 2 boards, the comfortable now board (higher volume), and the future stretch board (lower volume). Then, when the waves are good and focus should be spent on surfing, ride the larger board. And when focused on training stability, either in lower quality surf or flat water, practice paddling the smaller board. As you move towards lower volumes the difference in volume will shrink.
The race to the bottom is important, and should be a priority in your training, but should be separated from surfing (at times) and this will increase the learning curve both for surfing and stability.
Ok, so volume is important, but what are the limits?
That depends on your ability, tolerance to pain, endurance and goals. The limits for Mo or Gio would be at about a .9 v/w ratio – they are massively talented, 100% focused on performance and the last 1% matters (photos, videos, contests…), have incredible endurance (paddling super small boards is exponentially more work/cardio output) and their goal is to surf their best.
Those might not be your goals, and they aren’t mine anymore. You get some beautiful moments riding incredibly small boards but at the cost of more work and less waves. The trick is finding the intersection between surfing performance (lower volume) and wave count/fun (higher volume). And then, once we’ve found the inflection point dial up or down volume as the situation calls it.
Let’s look at what the industry has done regarding volume in performance paddle surfing.
If we go back 3 years and follow the trends of boards you’ll see most of the SUP surfing shapes starting to go full-on shortboard style. Lots of rocker, lower volumes, excessive pumping and paddling to get speed, which completely misses the ease of glide and smoothness of longboard/mid-length surfing and folks got frustrated.
The pendulum was bound to swing back, it did, and in the last year we’ve seen the increase of longboard style boards. 9 and 10 foot boards at 27-29 inches wide and still in the lower volume range, aimed at good surfers. But these shapes completely miss the radical/explosive shortboarding aspect of paddle surfing. Fun to paddle with a high wave count, but forget about smashing a lip.
If you believe, as I do, that paddle surfing is the perfect blend of the ease of speed and glide of longboarding/mid-length boards and the radical explosiveness of shortboarding then there isn’t anyone who I believed has yet solved the issue. And it proved a large enough challenge to get me interested.
And if I extrapolate farther, I wish those were the core components of competitive paddle surfing. I was talking to Dave Kalama on an early paddlewoo podcast and he said he didn’t agree with the current path of standup as it would be seen as bad shortboarding, and he suggested a board length minimum. I don’t agree on regulating board size, but do think changing the criteria would be good for the sport. Embracing the style elements possible on surfing a larger board would broaden the audience and eventually the market for standup surfing.
For starters, I don’t tolerate haters here, so if you post anything negative in a mean spirited way, the comment will be deleted, and you’ll be blocked. I can’t do anything about shitty mindsets for the greater world, but if you choose to play here, you’ve got to be cordial.
That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree, in fact I love a good argument, but not haters. Constructive criticism is always welcome and encouraged. I’m a work in progress, as are we all.
I do look at negativity, especially from haters, as an excuse to reflect on what you’re doing and to make sure you’re on the right path. Everyone has their own opinion, and in their mind, they’re correct. I try on that hat, whatever it is, to make sure I’m not suffering from cognitive dissonance.
Through that lens I asked myself, “Why not just shortboard?” Here’s where I landed.
It’s just more fun on more days. My surf session to fun surf session ratio is about 100% since I started paddling. It sounds terrible, but shortboarding my ratio was probably 50%, and I left the water less happy when I arrived 25% of the time. Surfing is all about riding waves, so if the waves aren’t on it’s difficult to feel fulfilled.
The Challenge. Riding small boards is one of the hardest things I’ve done in sport. I enjoy the challenge. I look forward to the challenge. It’s fun to feel like a kook, and all you have to do to get back to that place is drop a few liters.
Forced Mindfulness. If you’re pushing your volume limits, you’re using 100% of your focus to balance. That focus translates to being fully present in the moment. Yes, you do get that same zen moment in shortboarding, but only when riding waves. In paddling small boards you can extend the active meditation.
The workout. Going to the gym is a thing of the past. Maybe I do a few sets of kettlebells each week, but I used to workout for an hour a day while shortboarding. Now, I just paddle surf, and I stay in better shape. It is the total body workout that swimming wishes it was.
Body Type. I’m 6.1 at 183 today. I’m built more like a free safety than a pro surfer. In surfing my weight has always worked against me, there is no added value in being strong. Not true in paddle surfing. In paddle surfing you can leverage strength through the paddle with an exponential effect.
Peer group. I like paddlers. The commonalities we all share are solid traits. I’ve met many of my best friends through paddling.
Steep Innovation Curve. Paddle surfing is still in its infancy. It’s fun being a paddle surfer now, just as I assume it was amazing to be a surfer in the 60’s and 70’s. With each new innovation you get to experience surf in a new way. Shortboarding’s been stagnant for a long while, but paddle surfing is evolving every day. I have no idea what shape I’ll be riding next year. Or what kind of paddle. Innovation and change are fun places to be.
Paddle surfing is a complete sport. Fun. Exercise. Challenge. Comradery.
After looking in the hater mirror, I don’t doubt my path for a second.
Today I’ve been jamming on an upcoming interview, Anders Ericsson, the author of my favorite book, Peak, has agreed to come on the show! Stoked!!! but also a bit nervous. I respect his work so much that I’m doing my homework right now to make the most out of our time. If you have any questions that you’d like me to consider asking, please post them up in the comments below.
I do have some paddle surfing thoughts I’d like to share today, but this is more of stream of consciousness blog from what I was thinking about in the water this morning.
Since returning to Costa Rica on October 22nd I’ve been pushing it on some pretty small paddle boards. I’ve internalized the feeling and techniques of paddling negative float boards, but I’m having a difficult time articulating the experience. I’m looking for a good metaphor and the closest I’ve found is driving.
The act of driving is universal and we can all understand it. It’s similar whether your driving a golf cart, mini van, motorcycle, or bus. And that’s like paddling. You understand standup paddling at a basic level if you’ve paddled any board – an inflatable, a fishing board, a downwinder, a race board or a surf board.
Let’s equate paddling a 130% V/W ratio surf board to driving a reasonably priced sedan (Top Gear shout out). Most of us could take a reasonably priced sedan out to a track and do a decent job of getting it around the track. Just like most paddlers can paddle a good sized paddle surf board around in good conditions.
Paddling 110% would equate to driving a 911 Porsche. Equal V/W similar to an Formula One. And going down to 90% probably like driving a MotoGP.
Space and time shrink and thinking becomes reaction.
Just for fun, watch the above video and think about the work that went into the processes and building the mental representations to be able to drive at that level.
On a 130% board there’s enough time to think through a situation, and events happen at a pace you can comprehend. Paddling a board at 90% is unconscious reaction. If you haven’t developed the processes to handle the situation, you’re not going to have time to think and then act. Things fall apart before you realize what’s happened.
If you’ve developed the toolkit of processes to paddle smaller boards, you can progress down in volume, but if your toolkit isn’t complete, lower volume boards will expose those holes.
That’s a bit abstract, so let’s go through a concrete example. Sitting to Standing transition. On a 130% board you have some time to flounder from sitting to standing, place your feet, get the right grip on your paddle, and move forward. Maybe you even start on your knees, get situated, then pop up with some speed. Maybe the whole process takes you 4 seconds.
From my best guess, I have about 1.5 seconds on the new Hobie to go from seated to standing with the first stroke in progress. That’s if I do everything right. If I don’t anticipate a small chop, or get weight too far forward, it can be over well before that time. Everything happens faster. By the time I’ve started the pop up my tail is already sinking. Keeping weight on the back foot allows the nose to say up, so you can pull yourself out of the water with a stroke, but weighting the tail also allows the board to sink faster. If you don’t have the blade in the water before the nose is under water the chance of getting up drastically decreases. Luckily I have a process for popping up. Back foot under butt, paddle in right hand, held at grip, both hands on deck, front foot though arms to stringer, pop up in surf stance while reaching with the paddle for the first stroke. The process works and I don’t have to think about it.
Going back to the driving metaphor, on the track, in a reasonably priced sedan, you’d have extra seconds to anticipate turns, find your lines, and a much larger margin for error in braking and accelerating. That same track and those same turns look much different at three times the speed. You don’t have time to react. Processes take over or everything goes to hell.
It’s also interesting to think about the similarities between maneuverability in the smallest boards and top tier race cars/motorcycles. While they are more difficult to handle they offer so much more in performance. Lines you can draw at 90% allow access to places on a wave that 130% won’t ever.
The challenge of paddling small boards hooked me from the beginning. I assume it’s the same for martial artists, or driver’s refining their art. The beauty is in the details.
I’ve been an advocate of the race to the bottom since we coined the term on one of the first paddlewoo podcasts. If you’re new, the race to the bottom is the idea that performance comes from low volume paddle boards and to optimize growth it’s better to invest in paddling technique, to drop liters, than to practice surfing on larger boards. Obviously, you’re going to surf, but focusing on paddling small boards and pushing limits will result in performance gains in surfing.
Ok. This is an idea that I’ve completely internalized and practiced. But until the last two weeks I didn’t understand the importance of low volume, narrow boards in top-end performance.
Let me back up. I’ve been “stuck” riding boards in the 82-86L range for the last 18 months. Widths have been 25.5 -27. For that time my weight was right at 80kg. During this time my focus has been on creating/finding and deconstructing best practices for paddling, transitions, stability and maneuvers. And through this process I’m a much more technically sound paddle surfer, and a much better coach, but I haven’t felt my paddle surfing has really progressed.
Until now. When Colin and I designed my last Hobie, I wanted to change the way we distributed the volume based on a hypothesis. That hypothesis is that center volume won’t change stability (negatively) as much as will performance (positively).
I decided to go longer, 7.7, and narrower, down to 24. And, more importantly, to pack the volume in the center of the board. So, my last Hobie was 3.75 thick, the new one is 4.3 but the rails are a good bit thinner. The deck is domed. Volume came in at 83L. I’m currently weighing in at 85kg.
Performance gains have been incredible. The plateau I’ve felt for the last 18 months has been blown away by the maneuverability of the new dimensions. Turns that I could possibly, sluggishly muster though on the old hobe, just 3L bigger, but 2.5 wider, are now slicing and dialed.
Stablity is more challenging, but not as much as you’d think. I’ll be writing on it soon, but there are advantages to being underwater.
I’ve ridden it a few times sans paddle to learn the rails, still able to do cutbacks and top turns. Then, bouncing back to the paddle it truly feels like paddle enhanced surfing. I can feel the turns that I’ve modeled from Mo, Caio and Gio over the past two years. The limiting factor to a lot of their surfing is board size.
What I didn’t realize is that the performance curve isn’t linear. The biggest inflection point is the last 5 liters and getting below 25inches wide. It makes the paddle optional. You can use it to add to rail game, or top turns, but don’t need it in pumping and trimming down the line. Watch Mo videos. He’s shortboarding until a turn, then a massive paddle addition to the turn, and shortboards out of the turn. That isn’t possible just a board just a few liters bigger or wider.
It’s going to be an amazing season exploring new lines on a paddling possible surf board.
The race is worth it, and more important to performance even I understood.
Our next retreat is December 10-17th with Fisher and Kieran Grant from the Progression Project Film. Contact us to reserve your spot.
Meet Jason. Jason is software developer and web marketer from Santa Monica. He started kite surfing in 2007 and in 2011 found paddle surfing. About a year ago he stumbled across paddlewoo, listening to the podcast and reading the journal he decided that for his 40th birthday he’d like to come train at Blue Zone in Costa Rica.
Jason is an intermediate paddle surfer with a high degree of comfort in the ocean. He catches a ton of waves, gets down the line easily and is working on more advanced turns. He’s a great representative for the passionate paddle surfer who has more love than time, but is driven to progress.
His goal for the trip – to progress “a few years of California surfing in a week.” A lofty goal, but one he thinks he achieved.
Jason’s progression on the Backside Slingshot Bottom Turn in 5 days. Notice shoulders, head, paddle, hand position, paddle position and weighting.
I’ve wanted to do a podcast with a guest for a while now, and Jason proved to be the right person. His approach to learning and ability to articulate what he’s feeling will resonate with a lot of you reading. I highly recommend that you listen to the whole podcast and I believe it to be the most valuable I’ve recorded for the intermediate surfer who listens for tips to improve.
There is also value for the industry guys that listen as Jason is your ideal customer. In fact we are now in a discussion about what board is next in Jason’s race down in volume, and he’s ordering a 27 North Paddle, and getting the 20% paddlewoo discount. You can too.
Here’s some notes about the show:
We discuss the book Peak, by Anders Ericsson, at great length. I might make this mandatory reading for anyone coming down to train. Jason read it on the trip and we spent mornings over bulletproof coffee discussing its application in paddle surfing. Peak is about the journey to mastery though deliberate practice. It’s why I started the progression journal – to stay focused on deliberate practice in my surfing, and it’s paying massive dividends.
Seated Pop-up – Jason credits learning the seated pop-up as a massive energy saver. We surf a lot and you want to save your energy for surfing, not just paddling around waiting for waves, but if you’re not efficient in transition between sitting and standing you’ll miss waves and burn energy.
Stroke Technique and Paddle Length – Jason brought his own paddle down. Probably a 95 sq. in. blade, and cut at 4 inches over height. He used it once then dropped down to forehead height, 85 sq. in. blade, and never went back. On the show he discusses the paddle, changing his stoke and the net affect on wave count and fatigue.
Jason tells a story about surfing in crowds and not realizing the impact he was having riding a bigger board. He was on a voluminous 8.6 and taking off way out the back, thinking no one else could catch the waves. Then, after dropping down to the Rawson 7.10 he had to take off inside, where the longboarders sat, and other paddle surfers were taking off farther out on waves he wanted. He realized that until he dropped down in size he was taking waves that others could have caught and didn’t realize it. It changed his mindset about surfing in crowds. Here’s a piece I wrote with my strategies for surfing in lineups.
If you liked this post, you’ll love coming down to train in Costa Rica with Oscar and I. Inquire below for fall/winter dates.